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Frantic Assembly's Othello on tour – review

The famous Frantic Assembly production returns

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The cast of Othello
© Tristram Kenton

Fourteen years on from its blistering opening, Frantic Assembly has reassembled its much-lauded physical staging of Shakespeare's Othello. Scott Graham's production is a rip-roaring riot of a revised take: gone is the martial posturing, instead in an extended wordless prologue we're introduced to a local pub filled with a bruising, boozing band of brothers, all jocularity and jeering, fending off tracky-wearing Turkish forces. Forget Venice, here you've got VKs and V-flicks.

Tragedy unfurls at breakneck speed – the conniving Iago (a no-nonsense, at times inscrutably charismatic Joe Layton) deftly deceiving and manipulating his comrades in order to oversee Othello's bloody downfall, all conducted with tragic temerity.

It's a slick production, though one that has inevitably lost a small degree of its radicalism in the decade and a half since its first conception. Graham's unbridled vigour and fist-pumping, testosterone vision leaves less space for quiet nuance – one small beat where Othello (a muscular, physically rich turn from Michael Akinsulire) contemplates his place within his gang of pals providing precious complexity in an otherwise whirligig of paranoia and bloodshed.

As might be expected, there is also less space for the already diminished role of women – Chanel Waddock's Desdemona flits on and off stage, her romantic connection with Othello only ever given a few sweaty seconds of pool table intimacy to breathe. Kirsty Stuart's Emilia delivers her famous speech ("I do think it is their husbands' fault") from a grimy toilet cubicle, a momentary observation before being wheeled off into darkness.

The speed also exacerbates the quandaries of Shakespeare's text – there are head-scratches over Othello rapid choice to jettison trust in his wife based on the word of another, or Emilia's pivotal decision to hand the ill-fated strawberry handkerchief to her husband all feels glossed over.

Laura Hopkins' design, perhaps at times impeding the slick flow between scenes as set pieces are wheeled to and fro, contains a few neat tricks – especially as Othello's destructive antics grow to inconceivable levels – and walls ripple as if falling in and out of focus.

There's a reason this tried-and-tested production returns again and again – it brushes the dust off Shakespeare with blood-packs and bursts of violence. Forget Gangs of London – the Bard can give you proper drama without sitting through six hours of Netflix. The school groups in the crowd were loving it – and hopefully their Frantic Assembly encounter will only leave them wanting more.